Korean Music Shines At Performing Arts Market in Seoul, October 11-15, 2010

Ian Patterson BY

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Performing Arts Market in Seoul
National Theater and selected venues
Seoul, South Korea
11—15 October, 2010

The number of festivals, theaters and performance groups in South Korea has grown dramatically in the last twenty years and the tremendous developments in the fields of traditional music, jazz, dance and theater is testament to the vitality of Korean performers. Just as South Korea is increasingly on the itinerary of many international artists, so too, many international festivals are discovering the depth and richness of Korean performance art.

Performing Arts Market in Seoul (PAMS) is an annual platform held in the capital for the international promotion of the Korean performing arts. At a time when funding for the arts is perhaps more difficult to obtain than ever, the hundreds of delegates and performers who gathered in Seoul were seeking new ways to collaborate , produce and distribute Korean artists, though in effect, PAMS is much more than a marketing event. As in every year since the first PAMS event in 2005, one region of the world is showcased, and in this edition of PAMS the Nordic region was given the spotlight, with an emphasis on dance.

For those delegates with a special interest in music, PAMS put together an enticing program which consisted in the main of Korean folk groups who have taken a modern approach to old traditions. However, the music on offer encompassed temple music, avant-garde jazz, indie rock, experimental pop, an outstanding music documentary film, and Korea's answer to world music fusion.

The first port of call on day one was to the Buddhist temple and seminary of Gilsanga, to observe—as discreetly as possible—the incantations of the monks. In spite of its impressively traditional appearance, the temple was opened as recently as 1997. Gilsanga is also a place for Zen meditation in the House of Silence, and a retreat from the hustle and bustle of a city crammed with ten million living souls. Fittingly, the grounds are extremely relaxing, with stone tables as cold as a mountain stream to rest at, little piles of prayer stones here and there, a bubbling brook, wind chimes, and carefully manicured trees and bushes providing shade.

Music is an important part of religious observance in Korean Buddhism. The music of Buddhist rituals in Korea is called beompae, and essentially it is monophonic singing without fixed rhythm or harmony. Its origins lie in Indian musical traditions of jitsori with its free rhythm and extended notes and it has influenced pretty much all Korean traditional music, right up to today's innovators.

Inside the main hall, twenty or so lay people kneel on mats and join in ritual chants and recital of sutras, some clutching prayer beads. They are led by several monks who use a number of instruments to initiate the ceremony, to conduct the ceremony and to end it; a metallic gong, and the striking of a wooden gourd with a stick punctuate the low chants, and the atmosphere of calm—in spite of the chorus of so many voices—discourages photography, lingering or staring. The massive Brahma bell beside the main hall is struck repeatedly morning and evening to release those in hell from their suffering, though what it does for those suffering from hell on this earth is a matter of conjecture.

After the visit to the temple the group was led to a restaurant specializing in temple food; given the sumptuousness of the banquet is surprising that there are not more fat monks, though in fact there are a negligible number of fat people walking the streets of Seoul, which is something of a mystery given the profusion of Dunkin' Donuts.

After lunch there was a showing of an extraordinary documentary film with the intriguing title of Intangible Asset No. 82. Directed by Emma Franz, the film tells the story of jazz drummer Simon Barker and his quest to find a near-mythical Korean shaman and grandmaster musician, Kim Seok Chul. As a matter of background, Barker is well known in his native Australia where he has recorded and played with many of the country's finest jazz musicians. He has also lent his highly distinctive, energetic drumming to pianists Marilyn Crispell, Mark Isaacs and John Hicks, saxophonists Tim Berne, Joe Lovano and Carlos Ward, bassist Ed Schuller and singer Claire Martin.

The documentary begins with Barker declaring: "As a musician, you have to constantly ask yourself, "what am I doing and why am I doing this?" In Barker's case, the answer is simply that his music reflects the flow of his life. Several trips to Korea have brought Barker into contact with Korean traditional music and something in the music resonates strongly within him. A friend introduces him to the music of pansori percussionist/singer Kim Seok Chul, music which according to Barker "absolutely blew my mind." What particularly entrances Barker is the energy and rhythm of Kim's music. "I knew from that moment," relates Barker, "that I'd be dedicating a large part of my life to finding out more about this guy and his music."

Seven years after first coming to South Korea, and having listened intensely to Kim Seok Chul's music all this time and having attempted to transcribe his rhythms, Barker sets out to find the man. However, like the characters in all epic quests Barker has seemingly insurmountable problems to overcome; the biggest one facing him is discovering where Kim Seok Chul lives, and then, gaining access to him. The problem is that Kim Seok Chul is old and ailing, and as he has been designated an Intangible Asset— an honorary title recognizing his cultural importance to the nation—by the South Korean government, he is being closely cared for, and potentially intrusive visits are regarded with suspicion.

To add spice to the mystery, Kim Seok Chul is a shaman who uses the power of his music as a bridge between the living and the dead—it is almost impossible for a westerner to contact such a shaman.

On his journey Barker first meets musician Dong Won, a teacher, and the only person Barker has met who has crossed paths with Kim Seok Chul. Dong Won is the key to uniting Barker with Kim Seok Chul, though at first he regards the drummer with some suspicion: "Curiosity is not enough" proclaims Dong Wong. It takes time for Barker to gain trust and convince Dong Wong of the purity of his mission. As a step on the path to prepare Barker for a potential meeting with Kim Seok Chul, Dong Won introduces Barker to pansori singer, Bae il Dong.

A tremendous character, Bae il Dong spent seven years, eighteen hours a day singing—or rather howling—pansori songs against the roar of a waterfall. He slept in a hut he built nearby, and all with the purpose of giving strength to his voice and delivery. An exceptionally strong voice is a prerequisite of a pansori singer as he or she may have to sing for up to seven or eight hours in a performance which tells epic stories through song. The roar of the waterfall was so loud and his singing so hard that his eardrums burst, but from the power of the water, he relates, he drew energy.

Bae il Dong is an unbelievably strong singer with a presence and power comparable to the great flamenco singer Camaron de la Isla, and then some. Yet, in conversation he is wonderfully warm, relaxed and contented. Without giving the rest of the story away—this is really a film to track down and see for yourself—Barker's search leads him to a greater understanding of his art of drumming, or "giving into gravity" as Barker puts it. He has gained, he adds: "A vocabulary to express my life." There is certainly plenty of food for thought for drummers in particular and musicians in general, in this powerful, inspiring documentary film.

Bae il-Dong

The jazz drummer and the man who howls at waterfalls go on to perform together in concert and the results are nothing less than spectacular. This is not giving the end of the story away, as these performances alone are reason enough to see the DVD.

With Barker and Bae il Dong due to perform together on the closing night of PAMS there is already a tremendous sense of expectation among the music delegates.

The officially opening of PAMS came the following day at the National Theater of Korea, which is celebrating its 60th year in 2010. A brief but warm introductory declaration from Pyo Jae—soon, Chief Director of Korean Arts Management Service, and colorful entertainment in the form of co—host and flirtatious actress, Park Jun—Myeon set the tone for the following four days as one of fun, color, intimacy and energy. After the speeches, the smaller, in-the-round theater of the National Theater hosted short, captivating performance by three of the most innovative and exciting groups pushing the boundaries of traditional, creative music in Korea today, Baramgot, Tori Ensemble and Be-Being. Notably, these three ensembles will be the first Korean groups to open WOMEX, the world's largest world music trade fair, to be held in Copenhagen from the 27—31 October.

Baramgot is an exciting four-piece, sometimes five-piece band, led by artistic director, flautist and percussionist Won-il. Considered to be something of a pioneer in the field of Korean percussion, Won-il utilizes percussive objects suspended in water to create particular effects. Won-il has performed traditional Korean music and free jazz, as well as composing for dance stage and screen. Given the wide-ranging interests of the director, it is perhaps not surprising that the music of Baramgot has a feeling of freedom within carefully constructed boundaries.

Four musicians dressed in white sat cross legged on a low platform, with the gayageum (a multi-stringed, harp-like instrument) and geomungo (a cross between bass and guitar, struck or plucked with a stick) at either end of the platform creating wonderfully hypnotic sounds, both heady and ethereal. Drum and double-headed drum (janggu) filled the centre and drove the music. Small, sharp —toned flutes contrasted with larger, softer-toned flutes, and tambourine and brass temple bowls added subtle shading to the music. Alternatively meditative and driving, melody lay at the core of these exciting improvisations.


The Tori Ensemble consists of four traditional Korean musicians, though another version of the group—The Tori Project—adds American free jazz musicians Erik Friedlander on cello, Satoshi Takeishi on percussion and Ned Rothenberg on clarinet and shakuhachi, (Japanese end-blown flute). The quartet that performed in PAMS featured Heo Yeo-jeong, a master of the geomungo, and a designated Intangible Asset, lead vocalist Kang Kwon-soon, janggu player Min Young-chi and piri (flute) player Lee Suk. Tori Ensemble may have been minus the free jazz musicians on this occasion but improvisation is always a major part of Korean traditional music, especially in the drum rhythms, which are the lungs of the music.

Kang Kwon-soon's haunting vocals are central to the jeongga vocal style which was the literati music of scholars. The slow tempo was charged with emotional content, and subtle, fluctuating rhythms. Tori Ensemble's meditative melodies may reflect the roots of the music in the royal court tradition but there is a rougher, more dynamic aesthetic at work here, typified by the gutsy folk music sound of Heo Yeo-jeong's wonderfully expressive, deeply resonant geomungo, which has the depth and soul of a bass guitar and the emotional voice of Mississippi blues guitar. Throughout PAMS, the universality of music was evident in the traditional music groups featuring drum and stringed instruments, and although the music of Africa, the Delta blues, India and flamenco traditions was never overtly stated, the shared roots lay just beneath the surface on much of the music—deeply, seemingly genetically imprinted.

The third group to play at the opening ceremony was Be-Being, one of the most experimental of contemporary South Korean groups. Steeped in traditional Korean musical heritage, its set-up and appearance revealed an approach to music which is thoroughly modern. Sat at a long table, as opposed to the traditional position of sitting cross-legged on the floor, musical director Yung-Gyu Jang presided over 15 tuned bells which created an ambient chill, while at all times at least one of the four other members of the ensemble sustain a clapped rhythm, rising to two, three or all five members. Bewitching ensemble vocal chants stemming from the Buddhist tradition intertwined with xylophone, a keening cylindrical oboe and traditional stringed instruments to create music which was mysterious and seductive, timeless, and of the moment.


This musical offering was a wonderful opening to PAMS and succeeded in whetting the appetite for what lay in store over the next few days.

The serious business then got underway with the opening of three floors of 84 booth exhibitions and a round of speed dating, all of which gave delegates the chance to intermingle, get a better idea of what PAMS is all about, and allow the seeds of future collaborations to be sewn.

In the early afternoon there were four, twenty-minute showcase performances which gave an insight into contemporary South Korean dance. The interdisciplinary "Darkness Poomba"—by the versatile Kim Jae duk performance company—visited traditional Korean melodies whilst applying modern sounds in the shape of guitar, bass and drums, and movement. The performance attempted to blur the line between stage and audience. The dance was for the most part arresting, though when rock bass and guitar took to the audience causing necks to strain, the viewer's attention became at best divided, and perhaps distracted.

The second performance, "A Seventh Man"—based on John Berger's book of the same name—by choreographer Young Doo Jung, portrayed the upheaval of those forced to leave their homeland and migrate to a foreign country. The most visually striking scene of any of the four performances involved the seven dancers shaking their heads wildly, around and around and from side to side, to the crushing strains of Mahler's epic Symphony No.1.

Next up was the visually dramatic "Pattern & Variable"—by choreographer Park Soon—ho—which was inspired by Judo and the catharsis that the violence of sport can bring. Space was an equal protagonist in this piece and contrasted strikingly with the driving rhythms and ritual-like movements.

Finally, "Modern Feeling" by Insoo Lee's EDx2 Dance Company, used hip-hop, break dance, martial arts and acrobatics to explore the emotional bonds and conflicts between two friends. Perfectly and minutely choreographed, this was a compelling work with a simmering intensity and explosive, almost balletic movement.

After another sensational Korean dinner with our gracious hosts the music delegates were brought to the bustling Hongdea nightlife district of downtown Seoul to see three indie bands perform in a cellar bar. Goonamguayeoridingstella, a three-piece pop band opened the evening's entertainment with some uncluttered, riff-driven, catchy tunes, most of which were shorter than the time needed to decipher the band's name. Next up was 3rd Line Butterfly, (right) the most interesting of the three bands. With a passing resemblance to Sonic Youth and a nod to German band Can, the trio played with gutsy energy and was a big hit with the locals in the venue. To close the event, Kingston Rudieska, a seven-piece ska band got everybody up and dancing, though once the adrenalin had abated the question remained whether or not straight forwarded ska truly represented the cutting edge of modern indie music in Seoul, a city of ten million.

Day three contained what turned out to be one of the highlights of the week, an unforgettable performance by Ahn Sook Sun, a living legend of the pansori singing tradition, and a national Intangible Asset. A good pansori singer (sorikkun) is a master story teller—able to hold an audience in the palm of his or her hands—and a master singer, capable of reducing the audience to tears—Ahn Sook Sun, who is approaching seventy years of age, is considered to be the very best. Normally, Sun performs to packed theatres or audiences of thousands in outdoor settings, so to witness her in the unusually intimate setting of an old Korean wooden house—one of very few left in Seoul --- where there was barely room for ten people to sit cross-legged, was a rare privilege.

Donned in traditional pansori dress—a pleasing spectacle in itself—and accompanied by a drummer, (gosu) Sun gave a powerful, moving performance which affected the small but attentive audience greatly. The power of her voice was something to behold, and the similarities with flamenco or Qwaali singers seen in singer Bae il Dong—the waterfall man—were evidenced once again.

The drummer in pansori music plays a double-headed drum with bare hand and short stick, and his playing is purely improvisational. He responds to the singer by punctuating the song with guttural cries of encouragement or acknowledgment. These vocal pulses are called choo im say, and would correspond to the ole of flamenco or the exclamations of the congregation in a black church gospel meeting.

Sun has a kindly yet strong face, and watching its transformation and her body language as she spoke and sang of romance, joked, sang of dashed love or remonstrated with a lover was theater at its most compelling. Had this only been a spoken performance it would have been remarkable enough, but the power and range of emotion conveyed in her singing is what sets her apart from other pansori singers and makes her performances experiences to cherish.

Ahn Sook Sun, Sfinks Festival, Belgium,'10

After an utterly hypnotic performance Sun spoke of her art. In answer to the question of the relationship with her drummer she said unequivocally that the drummer is the most essential part of the music, his improvised rhythms—the changdan—providing the tension and release that inspires the singer and invests the music with its undeniable drama. The emotional charge that Sun's singing contains is remarkable, and she acknowledged that she often cries herself when performing. She also described her role as a storyteller who manipulates the audience's emotions.

Even with the handicap of understanding not a single word of her story/singing, all those present were caught up in her web of passion and emotion, and were undoubtedly enriched by the experience.

The afternoon music session held in the intimate surroundings of the KB Haneul Youth Theater put four quite distinct groups under the spotlight. All four performances had titles, which is no doubt a marketing strategy. First up was Tori Ensemble, who had opened PAMS on day one. Entitled "Tori, Sori, Nori" which translates as "Playing with the Sound of Tori," this thirty-minute performance differed slightly from the one two days earlier, with the manipulation of sound via laptop adding an electrified intensity to the stringed instruments. In the opening number the pounding janggu rhythms and chugging bass sounds of Heo Yoon-jeong's geomungo created stirring sounds.

Tori Ensemble

Vocalist Kang Kwon—soon's haunting vocals—part lament, part incantation—dominated the second piece, and seemed more appropriate for shamanic ritual to contact the departed than for royal or literati entertainment. By way of stark contrast, the final piece began with Min Young—chi's daeguem (bamboo flute) and Lee Suk-joo's piri (bamboo, double reed oboe) in meditative dialogue. By and by, the geomungo and janggu asserted their presence, and Kang Kwan—soon's voice rose slowly from a low, bass drone, gaining potency as the janggu rhythms intensified. The expected blistering climax never materialized and instead the music faded away as quietly as the spirits it seemed to invoke.

It was a sound programming decision to break up the more traditionally-based music groups with Miyeon and Park's free improvisations on piano and percussion, in a performance entitled "Dreams from the Ancestor." The husband and wife duo of pianist Miyeon and percussionist Je Chun Park have been performing together since 1996 and bring the worlds of free jazz/avant-garde into contact with Korean traditional music in unique style.

The opening notes from Miyeon's piano had a distinctly classical air, though the spiraling intensity of the music soon dispelled comparisons with most modern European jazz pianists. Miyeon's piano vamps set Park off on a percussive journey which crossed Western and Asian terrain. Sat cross-legged, his kit set-up was an intriguing mixture of Korean drum, gong, temple bowl, bells. Western snare and bass drums and cymbals, and he merged their sounds suggestively and seductively.

Miyeon's piano vamps could be short and punchy, as on the opening number, or extended, as on the second piece when her metronomic vamp lasted fully eight minutes—accompanied by insistent gongs and bells—increasing in tempo and intensity only in the closing moments of the piece. This piece segued into a quiet piano section whose simple melody sounded all the more alluring in a set characterized by a sea of percussive chords and high-octane playing. Miyeon's piano style is a combination of ascending and descending runs, dissonant, jagged clusters of notes and stabbing chords—like Don Pullen without a trace of the blues.


A dramatic performance closed with "Change 1" from Queen and King (Audioguy, 2008) a distinctive number with a charging percussive momentum and urgent piano exclamations across the full length of the keys.

There was a short intermission for the audience to catch its collective breath before Geomungo- Factory changed the atmosphere of the theater with their performance "Metamorphosis!" Just as jazz draws from the traditions of the past while searching for new territories to explore, Geomungo-Factory draws heavily from the heritage of Korean traditional music while creating a very personal sound which has an unmistakable energy combined with a meditative, spiritual soul.

Geomungo Factory consists of four musicians playing a variety of specially adapted geomungo; the combined effect of four stringed instruments created fascinating musical dialogues which drew from tango, European classical tradition and Korean poetry. A rendition of Tchaikovsky's "The Dance of the Sugarplum Fairy" from the Nutcracker Suite divided opinion among the audience, but apart from the recognizable melody which introduced and closed the piece, the interpretation was original and funky, and a sign that at the very least, Geomungo-Factory are thinking a little bit outside the box compared to traditional Korean groups.

Geomungo Factory's compositions were short in duration and it played a varied set which included quiet meditations, a lively tune which had the feel of a jam and a vocal number reminiscent of Irish group Clannad. The set concluded with "To a Free Bird," a number inspired by Brazilian novelist Paulo Cohelo's 11 Minutes that epitomized Geomungo Factory's merging of the past with the present; a very traditional, sedate beginning was enlivened by electrified geomungo which brought a bluesy electric guitar feel to the music in combination with atmospheric arco playing.

The last of the four groups, Cheong—Bae Traditional Performance Arts Troupe, gave what was undoubtedly the most colorful and most dynamic performance of the afternoon. Although entitled "Non-verbal Performance One," the set began in heady fashion, with the nine-piece group—consisting of dancers and drummers—chanting with a tribal passion as janggu thundered, gongs sounded relentlessly, giant conches boomed, and bamboo double-reed flute squealed.

Cheong-Bae has evolved from the Poongmul Yeonhee tradition of satires told by masked performers, though apart from the apparition of a ghostly figure dressed in white who gyrated slowly to appropriately ethereal group—vocals and gently struck gongs, this was an intense performance merging percussion and vibrant dance. One piece saw four dances twirling at breakneck speed around the floor space with ribbons attached to their head—gear carving great slashing arcs of white through the air, driven by four janggu drummers.

An absorbing set concluded with another intoxicating, adrenalin-charged dance which saw four dancers in matching blue and white dress sporting enormous candy-floss head-gear skipping and spinning vigorously around the floor space while thrashing drums. All the while, deafening gongs and percussion fill the air. When the four dancers came spinning towards the first row of the audience, it was as though we were about to be engulfed in the huge brushes of a car wash. Almost exhausting to watch, this exhilarating show climaxed in a flurry of drums, and finally, the single strike of a gong, bringing the audience to its feet in generous applause of appreciation.


In the evening a bus shipped the music delegates about an hour through the teeming Seoul traffic to the LIG Art Hall to see a concert by singer/composer/producer Baik Hyun-jhin and bassist/composer/arranger Jang Young—gyu, otherwise known as Uhuhboo Project. This pairing is considered to be a pioneer in avant-garde pop and there was certainly an adventurous spirit to the music and an edgy energy in the performance. Merging narration based on randomly selected pages from a story with driving rock, electronica and ambient sounds Baik led the eight-piece band through a continuous one and a half hour set which had elements of Kurt Weil, David Byrne and Tom Waits in its myriad rhythms and theatricality. Baik was the picture of a tortured artist, constantly prowling around the stage and making sudden jerking turns, constantly wiping sweat from his face. His curious movements and his occasional shouts and roars made him come across as a Korean Tom Waits with Tourette's syndrome.

With two percussionists presiding over a set up worthy of an orchestra, there was plenty of rhythmic impetus to the music. Piano, keyboard, guitar and the deeply resonant acoustic bass of Jang meant that the duo had a large sonic palette to draw from. In effect, the ensemble functioned like an orchestra and there was a lot to be admired in the originality of the arrangements and the boldness of the performance, typified by Baik's impressive vocals, which also drew from Teuoteu, the oldest form of pop in Korea. When Baik sang unaccompanied he delivered the words with a confessional intimacy which was arresting. There were also moments of some lyrical beauty as when Baik was accompanied only by Jang on strummed mandolin and minimalist piano. However, the most successful sections of the performance were when the entire ensemble was engaged in circus romp, with Baik roaring like King Lear in the eye of the storm.

Undoubtedly, the fact that the songs were sung in Korean meant that a certain amount of the music's impact was lost on the foreign delegates, but nevertheless, this was a not-to-be-missed opportunity to witness the most cutting edge of modern South Korean pop artists.

The fourth day of PAMS brought another welcome encounter with traditional Korean music in its purest form. Firstly, music delegates were treated to an illuminating a lecture on traditional Korean music and the challenges of recording this music in a beautiful traditional Korean house (Hanok). The lecture was given by Youngil Kim who has dedicated the last ten years to travelling the length and breadth of South Korea to record traditional Korean music in situ, preserving this wonderful music got future generations. His talk gave fascinating insight into the place of traditional Korean music in society in bygone days, and the difference between folk music and that intended for the royal courts.

Kim described a personal transformation in his relationship to the recording process in the field; he explained how initially he feared that the sounds of nature would intrude upon the clarity of the recordings, however, one day while recording there was a clap of thunder and it dawned on him that it functioned like the choo im say (audience exclamations of encouragement), energizing the music. Since that day, he went on to say, he has not feared the sounds of nature in his recordings; they have become a part of the music.

The lecture and the two mesmerizing traditional performances which followed were illuminated by a Q&A session which did much to explain the technique of playing traditional Korean instruments, the relationship between the instruments and the different musical styles. If there was one minor criticism it is simply that the timing of this lecture would have been more useful at the beginning of the week. In spite of this, there was widespread agreement among the delegates in attendance that this lecture and the two subsequent performances was a highly educational insight into the dynamics and philosophy of traditional Korean music.

The first of the two performances in the Hanok featured a seven-piece ensemble consisting of gayageum (twelve-stringed Korean harp), daegum (bamboo flute), haegeum (vertical two-stringed fiddle), piri (flute), janggu (double-headed drum) and vocals. Both pieces were sung, the first at a slower tempo than the second. The lyrics were of the same length in each number, though as the translator explained the length of each word is stretched in the slower number so that one word can last as long as a minute, though obviously the meaning is lost. This vocal style is known as jeong-ga. The ensemble playing (san-jo) music is traditionally improvised, however, the musicians all had sheet music in front of them and it was explained that older songs are transcribed these days by younger musicians, though improvisation is still an important element of the performance.

The continuous twenty minute recital was beautifully meditative and inherently lyrical, though it would have taken a trained ear to discern the obviously subtle shift in tempo between the two songs.

Chu Jeong-Hyun & Yoon Ho-se

The second performance featured the husband and wife duo of Chu Jeong—Hyun on gayageum and Yoon Ho—se on drums in a wonderfully intimate performance which contrasted with the preceding ensemble for its drama and virtuoso playing. Chu's mastery of her instrument was beguiling, whether playing in a slow, medium or fast tempo. Bending the pitches brought a bluesy quality to the strings and a momentum to the music. Yoon interjected utterances of encouragement—often mere grunts—and struck the wooden body of the drum sharply with a short stick in his right hand, while using his bare left hand on the skin. The dialogue between the two heightened as the tempo increased, and a wonderfully passionate performance of just over fifteen minutes was greeted in the end with a loud ovation.

In the early evening another pair of diverse musical performances at the Buckhon Changwoo Theater served to highlight how young musicians are adapting traditional Korean music to more modern, experimental styles. The first group was Wolha—ga—in, an 11-piece ensemble whose originality lay in its combination of three female vocalists and three male who broke with Korean tradition simply by harmonizing. Backed by the usual assortment of traditional instruments including the saenghwang, the only chord instrument among wind instruments; this unusual instrument is also referred to as bongsaeng (phoenix) owing to the shape of the phoenix's folded wings, and its seventeen vertical pipes produce a sound similar to the khaen of north-east Thailand and Laos— like a small pipe organ.


The short set was comprised of two pieces formerly played in the royal palaces, with lyrics from sijo poetry. The beautiful, meditative harmonies---buoyed by gently percussive rhythms—lay between incantation and lament and had a wonderfully calming effect.

The second group to take to the floor was Anaya, a world music group which marries traditional Korean music with western instruments. Anaya adopts a modern approach to song-writing, pitching acoustic instruments together with electric bass. An original characteristic of Anaya's music is the combination of folk singer, Kim Chae—woon and popular singer Bae Ju—hee, who bring their utterly distinctive voices to the music. Kim's strong, soulful tenor featured on the opener, "Jeongseon Arirang," a striking folk song with accompaniment by acoustic guitar. On "Dreams and Phantasms" Bae's vocals brought grace and power to a short, dynamic composition. Amazingly, the upbeat, radio-friendly "Picking Flower Song" was based on an 800-year-old poem and included rap breaks from Park Jong—il over percolating percussion.

When the two vocalists dovetailed on the short and sweet "Suhwoojeh," and the melancholic "Ddabukne" the unique chemistry of the group came into full focus. The exotic mixture of centuries-old poetry, folk music, pansori, rap and western forms results in a group voice which places Anaya in a unique position on the modern South Korean music scene.

The final day of PAMS coincided with the opening of the Jarasum International Jazz Festival which meant that the author was unable to attend either the roundtable discussion on the possibilities of overseas advancement of Korean music, or the closing concert featuring Australian drummer Simon Barker and pansori singer Bae Dong-il. At the end of a packed four days of music, however, it is clear that South Korean music is in a very healthy state indeed. The traditionally-based Korean music—whether it be pure pansori or the more modern-influenced groups—is as powerful a music as you could care to meet.

The music once of the royal courts, of religious and shamanistic rituals, of the performing arts and of free improvisation is bound by soulfulness, a rare passion and a spirituality which leaves an indelible mark on those who hear it. PAMS 2010 was an outstanding platform for the music of South Korea, and any music or arts festival in the world would be the better for its inclusion.

Photo Credits

Page 1: Ian Patterson

Page 2: www.intangibleasset82.com Page 3:Photo 1, Ian Patterson; Photo 2, Sunjeo Park
Page 4:Photo 1, Ian Patterson; Photo 2, Harm-Jaap Hartman
Page 5: Photo 1, Sunjeo Park; Photo 2, Ian Patterson
Page 6, 7: Ian Patterson

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